During pre-season, Steven Mullaney declared that his Nottinghamshire team-mate Luke Fletcher was ‘half the man he used to be.’
Mullaney was referring to Fletcher’s winter fitness drive, that saw him lose two stone in preparation for the new campaign.
On Saturday at the Riverside, the 28 year-old flourished into twice the batsman anyone thought would be when they saw him stride to the crease as a nightwatchman, under leaden skies on the previous evening.
Fletcher is a hugely popular member of the Outlaws dressing-room and during his brief stint with the county, Andre Russell couldn’t hide his enjoyment of the seamer’s sense of humour; and he walks in and out of enough dressing-rooms to know a good joker when he sees one.
Fletcher was anything but light relief for the Durham bowlers in his hour and a half stay at the crease, cutting well, hitting Ryan Pringle cleanly down the ground and clipping Graham Onions repeatedly off his hips when his line strayed.
The four fifties Notts have amassed in their opening two games have all come from batsman at number seven or lower and this strength will help them suck the life out of Division Two teams this season.
They look like an excellent bet to gain promotion and stand on the brink of victory in Durham’s first game back into the second tier.
It remains to be seen how long Peter Moores can overlook the likes of Billy Root, who hit a century for the Second XI last week, while the red-ball form of Riki Wessels and Michael Lumb continues to teeter.
Seam-wise, though, the promising likes of Jack Blatherwick and Ben Kitt will have to wait as long as their county’s seam battery continue to rip through top orders and act as willing wielders of the willow.
Durham bowled well in the first hour of the day, although Onions’ opening spell from the Finchale End proved somewhat expensive.
Much has been made of the defiance shown by the county of late and it is palpable at the Riverside.
“We’re on minus 47 now,” one member mentioned. “We’ll get to zero eventually.”
The home bowlers nicked off Samit Patel, who eventually vacated the crease after about a minute’s gazing into mid-air, trapped Wessels in front and then Chris Read was bowled through the gate by Coughlin.
The hosts toiled in taking the final three wickets, with Mark Wood failing to really offer penetrative seam in a frustrating spell after the lunch break that saw him create a couple of good chances to remove James Pattinson.
During the afternoon, the loudest murmur that came from the main stand was the news that Sunderland were losing.
“They’re going down, forever,” one chuckled with glee. The name of Jordan Ayew, West Ham’s first goalscorer, was passed around with palpable relish.
It is Durham’s batting that is most cause for concern as they plummeted to 24-3 in their second innings. Steven Cook’s travails continue and the impeccable judgement outside off-stump that characterised his early success in Test cricket deserted him, for this game at least.
The Durham faithful will stick with Cook, and their small but mighty squad, through the tough times.
The closest this came to being challenged was when the batch of Beef Hotpot in the press room ran out before all of the members of the media had been fed.
“You see, there’ll be no bugger here for the next game,” a club man said.
Although the press men may trickle down in number when Jennings and Wood are on England duty and its Northamptonshire rather than Nottinghamshire, the home fans will still be there, bouncing back together.